The true value of an autograph…”

Author: Matt W.

Spring of 1988. I’m eighteen and trying to decide where to go to college. Having grown up in San Francisco, I’ve never been east of the Rockies or west of Manhattan. I’ve got three choices…UC-San Diego and UC Berkeley in-state, and Washington University in St. Louis out of state. Eventually my curiousity gets the better of me, and having never been anywhere near the Midwest, I decide to spend the next four years of my life in St. Louis. Officially it’s because Washington University has a top-notch medical school and I’m planning on becoming a pediatrician. Unofficially it’s because I’ve become a hockey fan (in large part thanks to the Miracle on Ice), and unlike Berkeley or San Diego, St. Louis actually has a hockey team.

Fast-forward to the next fall. I find out that Wash. U has a club hockey team and show up to the first practice. It becomes painfully obvious that Californian that I am, I cannot skate well-enough to play even at this low level. However, the coach takes pity on me and allows me to practice with the team, and even better, allows me to become the team manager/assistant coach. Now this may not sound like much, but this is a position with major side benefits. You see, because the school does not have it’s own rink, it’s plays many of it’s games at the St. Louis Arena before St. Louis Blues games…and I’m in charge of distributing the 200-400 free tickets we get for each game. Having been to exactly zero NHL games in my life to that point, this was pretty damn cool. Needless to say, my grades suffered as I quickly became a die-hard Blues fan, but that’s no even the beginning of the story.

About two-thirds of the way through the season, the LA Kings come to town to play the Blues. Generally speaking, our games ran from about 4:30-6:30, allowing time for the ice to be resurfaced after we finished and the Blues and visiting team to take the ice for warmups at about 6:50. Usually, whichever team was playing the Blues that night would arrive at the Arena between 5:30-6:00, early enough that the players would often wander out from their locker room to watch the end of our game.

On this night, we’re cruising to a comfortable win. I look up with a few minutes left and notice that a handful of Kings players are standing in the tunnel to the visiting locker room watching. Smack dab in the middle of them is the Great One himself…Wayne Gretzky. I ask our coach if I can leave the bench early and go get his autograph and he says sure. The only thing I have at hand is my spiral notebook and red pen with which I’ve been charting shots and jotting down other notes. I leave the bench, walk over and introduce myself, and ask for an autograph. Not only does the Great One give me his autograph, but even as our game ends and his teammates start to wander back to the locker room to put on their uniforms, he stays and talks to me for a few minutes.


As Mastercard might put it…..value of a Wayne Gretzky autograph….$50….value of getting to talk to Wayne Gretzky about hockey 1-on-1 for five minutes….priceless.

And that’s what I think all the people spending hundreds and/or thousands of dollars on artficially “scarce” autograph cards don’t get. It’s not the scarcity of the card or even the autograph itself that it truly valuable (after all, most players have/will sign thousands of autographs in their lifetime). It’s the experience of getting an autograph in person that is the one thing which cannot be replicated or replaced. It’s the story behind how you acquired it that gives an autograph it’s true value, not the signature itself.



  1. Great story, even though I totally disagree with the premise of your last paragraph. Many “rare” autograph cards that are produced by card companies are valuable to many people. You’re confusing monetary and sentimental value. The monetary value of something is determined by how much someone else is willing to pay for something. Your Gretzky autograph has a ton of sentimental value to you, that it wouldn’t have for anyone else who acquired it. And cards that have a lot of monetary value can certainly have a lot of sentimental value too.

  2. Your right about the value of the auto too. Really when we get an autograph from one of the card cos your really placing value on the quality of the card company because you are essentially buying into the certifate that says it’s real.

  3. Great story. I can’t agree more with your thoughts on the value of an autograph. I went to a PGA pro-am in Charlotte last year and was fortunate enough to get talk with a handful of golfers, ESPN’s Chris Berman, and others. Chris Berman talked for a while and cracked a few jokes. Just an experience that came to mind after reading the article.

  4. Nice note. I’m in STL and I hope your still a Blues fan. A handful of coworkers bumped into The Great One at a hotel bar after Brett Hull NIght this winter, and he hung out and drank a beer with them. They were blown away by what a down-to-earth nice guy that he was. Doesn’t sound like a fluke.

  5. I disagree, I have autograph cards from a lot of people I don’t really feel any need to meet, and I know a lot of others who do as well. Sometimes it really is about collecting the cards. Thats why people collect cards and not just any old autograph scribbled on a page. These are card collectors. The “true” value is what someone will pay for it.

  6. The sentimental value of an experience is exceptionally high, yet not everyone has an opportunity to interface with a professional athlete (or one of choice) which is why autographed cards sell. Not many people can get a minute from Derek Jeter and none get it from Babe Ruth.

  7. Nice Story..

    I like stories its a nice change.. Im not really into in person auto’s, however, I feel like I am intruding on the persons privacy, but then again thats just me..



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